The Critical Role of Scientific Knowledge When Supporting Laboratory IT and Scientific Informatics
Laboratories in science-driven industries such as Pharma & Biotech, Speciality Chemicals, Food, FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods), Agro Tech etc., have leveraged computers and software since they became routinely available over the past 50 years. The recent drive for Digital transformation of laboratories and science is now demanding “software and IT” in science crucial. Without them, all the benefits of the digital transformation to build a digital science value chain through efficiency, quality, FAIR data, and innovation are impossible. Information technology (IT) and scientific applications have grown from peripheral necessities to core components of laboratory functions, enabling automation, data collection, and advanced analysis. But, the successful deployment and maintenance of these systems require not only traditional IT skills but a deep understanding of the science these systems are meant to facilitate.
From a high-level perspective, IT professionals are experts in software and hardware components, networking, troubleshooting, and various other technical aspects. However, an additional dimension must be accounted for when operating in the laboratory setting – the science behind the research or analytical testing being conducted. Understanding the scientific principles at play and how they influence the design and use of laboratory IT systems can make a substantial difference in both the efficacy of these systems and the results produced by the lab.
Typically, when generic IT service providers deliver scientific informatics and lab IT support –scientists are left “doing their own support,” and the time taken to “get the problem fixed” is far longer than is needed – this leads to a slowdown of the scientists and significant frustration and lost opportunity. Tickets are raised, but L1 support does not have the tools or scientific knowledge to help fix the issue, so it goes to L2 support, who have a little more understanding. The support process is then long, with tickets typically ending up at L3 support. So why not do it differently – why not get the science and informatics knowledge at L1 and L2? Why not allow the scientists to get “real scientific support” that helps them with IT and informatics issues and supports their science? Why not provide Lab IT support for the scientists in their local language onsite in their lab?
Why is scientific knowledge vital for Scientific Informatics and Lab IT?
Laboratory informatics includes elements such as Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS), Electronic Lab Notebooks (ELN), registration systems, robotics control systems, scientific data management systems, and laboratory instrument systems such as CDS (Chromatography Data Systems). Each application serves a distinct purpose and requires a specific understanding of the scientific workflow and context to be set up and operate optimally.
For instance, a LIMS manages samples and their associated data. This system must adhere to protocols related to sample handling, storage, and testing, which can be vastly different depending on whether you’re in a pharmaceutical, forensics, or food testing lab. Knowledge of the scientific processes ensures the LIMS is structured and configured correctly, facilitating efficient lab workflow and reliable data management.
Lab IT support is all the support required to network instruments and associated hardware, updating instrument firmware and software locally - essentially ensuring all lab “infrastructure” elements are working correctly. So when automating laboratory processes, a deep understanding of the scientific process being automated is essential to ensure success for the scientists. Without such knowledge, automation may fail, not serve the intended purpose or lead to errors that impact the integrity of results. Understanding the scientific principles behind these processes ensures that the lab’s IT and automation is accurately and effectively implemented.
A great example where generic IT skills are not sufficient is connecting a lab sample label printer to a LIMS system in the lab. This is not a common task and is not covered by the standard IT policies, managed services and processes. It is specific to the situation:
- the particular lab, e.g. in a clean room;
- the laboratory software, e.g. a specific version of CDS software;
- the particular label printer type, e.g. a Zebra ZD200 series printer and;
- the type of work conducted in the lab, e.g. -80 long-term storage sample prep.
This is not the same as connecting the standard corporate printer to the network in an open-plan office – it needs scientific understanding and experience.
Local language support for the scientists is another aspect that makes this area more complex. Scientific and laboratories are technical environments – with precise and domain-centric language. Ensuring the scientists are supported with their local AND scientific language is a critical success factor in ensuring customer satisfaction for an IT group within a scientific organization. In many cases, Lab IT support is only conducted in English – meaning the scientists have to explain their issues in English – which can be time-consuming and problematic when English is not your first language.
In many cases, IT managed service and support services are measured with KPIs – the customer, aka the scientists’ satisfaction, is a significant part of the delivery measurement. The combination of the abovementioned issues leads to these “support KPIs” often not being met. This leads to frustration and lost time for the scientists.
How scientific knowledge enhances laboratory informatics and IT support?
By understanding the scientific methods and principles, support professionals can better communicate with the lab staff, which is crucial in troubleshooting and optimizing lab systems. This understanding helps the lab informatics and Lab IT support staff see from the scientist’s perspective, identifying potential issues or bottlenecks and providing solutions that align with the specific scientific workflows.
Moreover, regulatory compliance is a crucial issue in many laboratories. Whether HIPAA in medical labs, GLP in pharmaceutical labs, or ISO standards in testing labs, the lab informatics and IT must be designed and managed to ensure compliance. Knowledge of the scientific context helps IT professionals to comprehend these workflows and standards and implement them efficiently and accurately. We often see that the informatics service provider, if properly experienced and understanding of the science, can provide added value and insights to help optimize the scientific workflow efficiency, increase the data’s worth, and support the scientists’ innovation and effectiveness.
In conclusion, while traditional IT skills remain crucial, scientific knowledge has become an equally indispensable asset for Lab IT and scientific informatics managed services support. By understanding the scientific processes and principles, systems can be continually optimized to support efficient, accurate, and compliant scientific research and testing. This combination of skills will likely be even more important as laboratories continue leveraging technology to push scientific boundaries. The successful marriage of IT expertise and science is paramount to enabling digital science, affirming the irreplaceable role of scientific knowledge in modern laboratory informatics setup and support.
If you would like to know more about Zifo’s market-leading scientific informatics and laboratory IT managed services, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org